Public Enemy’s most wanted, the multi-threat consisting of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, DJ Lord, and Professor Griff made waves when connecting rap music to a community, bringing emotional and physical distress to the foreground of society. Public Enemy captured a unique funk/rock style into hip-hop music, blending both genre and social issues into one complete package.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is the sophomore album from East Coast destroyers, Public Enemy. Starting off the record with “Countdown to Armageddon,” a track that begins as more of the opening scene to a film rather than a song, it uses blaring sirens and Professor Griff delivering lines about how “Armageddon had been in effect,” and how the “Revolution will not be televised.” Griff acts as a hype man before launching into “Bring The Noise,” a track where both Flavor Flav and Chuck D make their first appearance of the album.
Malcolm X actually begins “Bring The Noise” with a sample from his “Message to The Grassroots Speech,” where X explains “It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong.” Public Enemy samples instead where Malcolm X explains “Too Black…Too Strong.” Using Malcolm X’s strong words to begin the track and essentially the musical aspect of It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back showcases the strong political influence that Public Enemy displayed in their musical message.
“Bring The Noise” focuses on using different funk samples from James Brown, Funkadelic, and the “Soul Sister # 1” Marva Whitney. All together these samples create what sounds like a funk song created in the 90’s. It uses different drum rolls and a groovy bass line that continues to bounce the track between a shrieking amount of distorted horns and Flavor Flav continually backing Chuck D acting as the world’s greatest hype man.
The slick use of funk then perfectly cascades into “Don’t Believe The Hype,” a jamming track that uses a record scratch and more James Brown samples. The track “Synthetic Substitution” by Melvin Bliss makes up the drum beat, and Chuck D; The MC continues to aggressively control the direction of “Don’t Believe The Hype.” Chuck D has a powerful approach to his lyrics, explaining in one line that “The minute they see me, fear me. I’m the epitome of Public Enemy, Used, abused without clues. I refuse to blow a fuse, they even had it on the news.”
“Don’t Believe The Hype,” focuses more on the influence that rap music had during the 90’s and its continued focus throughout history to follow. Chuck D explains that following hype and trends will only lead to the demise of the followers. The next track, “Cold Lampin’ With Flavor” focuses more on Flavor Flav’s rapping aspect of Public Enemy. Flav uses his audacious attitude to begin the track with some of the more personal verses about how he can “Take the dopest beat and rock it,” and how his “Clock on my chest proves I don’t fess.” The constant combative style of Chuck D, mixed with the more amusing and uplifting sound of Flavor Flav creates an even balance within It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back.
The following, “Terminator X to The Edge of Panic” makes an interesting use of “Flash’s Theme” from Flash Gordon movie made famously by the prolific rock group Queen. It also contains some substantial bars asking “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy,” and how there is “No Peace to reach, that’s why he is packing his black piece.” It uses interesting wordplay and an anti-establishment style that Public Enemy was made famous for using. The group was more about moving a message among the people rather than making money or obtaining fame. The group was for the betterment of a society, not personal gain.
Chuck D once explained,
“Rap is supposed to be about keeping it real and not relinquishing your roots in the community. Without that, it’s just posturing. Somebody who claims to speak for the hood don’t need no private jet.”
He also explained why he was so anti-establishment,
“Government and culture are two diametrically opposed forces. The one blinds and oppresses, the other uplifts and unites.”
This was what Public Enemy based its roots upon, every track on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back focuses on either government or societal issues.
The track “Mind Terrorist” is only simply an instrumental, but the following track, “Louder Than a Bomb” immediately launches into speaking about why Chuck D is on file, “Cause I give you what you lack, come right and exact Our status is the saddest so I care where you at, black.” “Louder Than a Bomb” also focuses more on the instrumental side of using more funk samples of different artists like Kool & The Gang and The Fantastic Five, but also using American Hard Rock Band Mountain’s hit “Long Red.” The constant blending of sampling is just one of the ways that Public Enemy continues to change their style both through the tone and musical approach.
“Caught, Can We Get a Witness” follows and uses an outstanding sample of James Brown’s live tape “Soul Power.” It makes the track feel like a 1970’s police chase or something that would be used in a jungle style of music. The electric guitar used and the authentic drums mixed with Chuck D, Professor Griff, and Flavor Flav on the microphones continue to impress on a production aspect. The lyrical aspect is also impressive as Chuck D delivers some lines pertaining to the performers of Chuck’s time, “You singers are spineless, as you sing your senseless songs to the mindless.”
Following is “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got,” which is more of a slow down from the constant rushed tempo of most of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The sample used is a dreamy saxophone and while the track has no real lines or bars, it instead uses different samples pertaining to Black Leaders like Nelson Mandela, Marcus Garvey, Adam Clayton Powell, and even the heavier hitters of the civil rights leaders like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks.
The next track, “She Watch Channel Zero?!” uses a Slayer sample from the track “Angel of Death” and a sample from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” which is a track that is constantly sampled all over It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
“Night of The Living Baseheads” trails behind and uses a sample of Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad who later served as a member of the Black Panther Party, describing “Have you forgotten that once we were brought here, we were robbed of our name, robbed of our language. We lost our religion, our culture, our god…and many of us, by the way we act, we even lost our minds.” This track uses distorted horns to lay down the framework of the instrumental, it also uses “Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band for the percussion aspect of the track. There is also a sample of David Bowie’s “Fame” that acts as a small interlude into the rest of the beat.
Then the track “Black Steel in The Hour of Chaos” follows and decides to use the opening line, “I got a letter from the government the other day I opened and read it, it said they were suckers.” Still one of the more clever ways to start a track off, and the execution behind Chuck D’s voice is outstanding. This track is slower, but still the powerful use of thumping bass and bouncing piano keeps the instrumental feeling weighted and impactful. Chuck D shares on the experiences of going and sitting in a prison cell, “They got me rotting in the time that I’m serving.”
“Security of The First World” is another instrumental track, but it comes right before one of the highlight tracks of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, “Rebel Without a Pause.” It features a sample “I Don’t Know What This World is Coming to,” by The Soul Children before launching into one of the more frantic boom-bap tracks of the record. Chuck D delivers a great complementary assault of lyrics along with the instrumentation. D also throws down some lines about the other members of Public Enemy, “Flavor, a rebel in his own mind. Supporter of my rhyme, designed to scatter a line of suckers who claim I do crime.”
The last two tracks, both “Prophets of Rage,” and “Party for Your Right to Fight” focus on the political and anti-establishment style that Public Enemy made famous. Party for Your Right to Fight” sounds more like a dance or a club track than anything. It is obviously a reference to the Beastie Boys track “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right to Party.” It is also where the term “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” is coined.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back will always be looked as a monumental piece in American Protest History. Public Enemy will continually shake the Earth, influencing both young and old; allowing everyone to band together and create a nation of millions.